The Birthday Present
All your base belong to—oops. No, it doesn't. Belongs to Rowling.
Chapter 2: Big and Little Whinging
Severus Snape walked down the hallway in a daze. So it had come. The Headmaster had once more chosen the fate of a Gryffindor over that of a Slytherin. He shouldn't have been surprised. In the years before Potter and his cohorts had been Sorted, it had seemed as if the Snakes were truly part of the school, and not just tolerated for the tuitions they paid. Ever since the boy had shown up, though, Dumbledore's true colors had shown.
Snape knew he was expendable. He knew every moment here and not in Azkaban was borrowed, since the day he'd shown up in the Headmaster's office ready to be turned over to a Dementor. But it hurt to have his face rubbed in it so briskly.
He turned a corner, leaned against a wall, and shook with rage. Everything he'd done for the Order last year was ignored, and only his one failure held up to him. Even Albus hadn't wanted to teach Potter Occlumency because he didn't like seeing the Dark Lord's evil glow from the boy's face. Well, I wasn't especially amused by it either, he thought. I had far more to lose if I didn't play the game well enough. Tortured to death by his horrible master, or sent to Azkaban by his good one. What a choice!
Finding his pensieve wasn't safe was the final blow. It didn't really matter what memory the boy had gotten into. He'd had to take a Calming Potion before every lesson and hope he could actually teach Potter something before revealing Order secrets directly to the Serpent. How was I to succeed at something the Headmaster was afraid to do? How ironic that today he'd been told to work with the Dursleys. Isn't that your job, Albus? Haven't you made it clear over the years that no Slytherin could possibly understand what the Boy-Who-Lived could be suffering? If you love Harry so dearly, why inflict the Evil Potions Master on his relatives? But that's typical. I'm supposed to make things all better for a boy who hates me. What else is new?
He felt fury wash over him. Snape knew he must hurry out of here before things started breaking. It had been a long time since his frustration was so great that his wandless magic began to manifest, but he had never forgotten the feeling.
Snape noticed a door that usually wasn't there. Ah, the Room of Requirement. What does it have that I need right now?
He entered it, then tried to back away as snakes from the Forbidden Forest slithered towards him, ready to strike. They were almost the size of Nagini. He looked for the door, but it was gone.
He barely got his wand out in time to defend himself. Spell after spell shot out of it as he desperately fought against the wretched beasts. He bit back pain as he gathered several bites. This was obvious some sort of trap, not the actual Room.
At last he killed them all. Their bodies faded away, as the bites on his arms and face. The door out of the room reappeared. What kind of a sick joke is this? How could I possibly require a fight?
He slid down to the floor, his back against the wall, and trembled. He dare not leave until he regained his strength. Hogwarts was supposed to be a sanctuary—wasn't that a laugh! But he knew better. It was a prison that others got to leave, but never him, until the day he was taken to the island again and left to rot. He almost wished that the Dark Lord would discover he was a traitor and dispose of him that way. Even Voldemort could only keep him alive so long.
Perhaps it wouldn't be so bad to be Kissed by a Dementor. His soulless body would soon wither and die in a relatively painless way, while his role in the war would be over. Nobody appeared to think his information mattered that much, or bothered to thank him for it. Oh, they'd listened to it last year, and discussed his news intently, but he was only the messenger. What happened to him was obviously not important. Moody would find other spies. The war would go on. Almost no one would miss him.
Molly Weasley might. But that wouldn't last long. One of her children or Potter would need her help, and she would move on with few regrets. It was clear to Snape now that Dumbledore was only using him, and his expiry date, to use a Muggle term, was almost here.
But till then he still had duties. Snape wiped his eyes, struggled to his feet, and walked with slow steps out of the room and down to the dungeons. He drank some strong tea and sat in his private room. At least now he could think clearly, instead of being consumed with rage.
Perhaps that was what the Room of Requirement had been for. The snakes had certainly smelled and felt real before they disappeared. At least with them he had been allowed to strike, instead of letting himself be attacked and berated whenever he defended himself.
He took a deep breath after he finished the cup. Very well. He had to find a way to work with Potter. No doubt the Occlumency lessons would begin again next fall. He would take the Headmaster up on his offer of help, and have him sit in for the first few lessons. Even if the boy pretended to cooperate when Dumbledore was there, it would be patently obvious how little the Gryffindor had learned the year before.
It was probably too much to ask for an apology for the pensieve incident. Snape had long learned that when a Gryff offended, a Slytherin had to extend forgiveness, or accept the punishment for that matter. Gryffindors, after all, never meant any real harm despite all evidence to the contrary. Besides, there was always a way that the Slytherin was somehow to blame for the situation, if only by existing.
However, unless Potter learned patience over the summer, it would become clear even to Dumbledore that his perfect boy was not holding up his end of the bargain. If the Boy-Who-Lived was still a conduit for the Dark Lord, his old master would be far too vain to keep from showing off.
That could wait till fall, though. As for the Dursleys, Snape was all too familiar with those family dynamics. Too many of his Slytherins were as well. He may as well do something about that, though of course Albus would receive all the credit.
From the little he'd seen in Potter's memories, everyone took their cue from Vernon Dursley. The fat brat obviously courted his father's favor by beating on the boy, while the wife was too weak to exercise proper control over the household. Snape's lip curled. He knew how that worked.
He began a letter that he'd written too often to other families. First, one had to acknowledge the difficulty of the situation, and then to offer a solution within the person's capabilities. He thought about that for a few minutes. The uncle didn't appear to be an alcoholic, but judging from Harry's memories, often got angry after a glass or two of whiskey and much more so on weekends after a whole bottle was consumed. Petunia Dursley allowed the boy to be the scapegoat for most of that ill-temper, thus sparing herself and her son. This was all too common in many families that Snape had dealt with before. At least the mother doesn't drink as well, at least not in the boy's sight. She's never passed out and left the children to their own devices, and she he does try to keep the peace when her husband is angry. Harry goes into that wretched cupboard after the first blow or two. That was cruel, but it could be worse. Beatings could go on longer than that.
Severus pulled himself away from such speculation. He had to concentrate on the Dursleys now. How skilled was the aunt? Was she truly Muggleborn or Squib? Potter had never seen Petunia Dursley do any magic, but she might hide it from everyone. No doubt he would have to make up the first batch of herbs, and all the rest as well.
He began the letter.
"Dear Mrs. Dursley. I am one of your nephew's teachers at his school, and I must commend you for how you have dealt with a difficult situation. Few women would have exerted themselves to raise a sister's child despite all the problems that usually entails. I have found the boy a handful myself. I also sympathize with anyone who must deal with other members of the family who react badly to your generosity. Trust me, I am truly concerned for your welfare, and that of your family."
It never really worked to tell someone to stop abusing another family member, unless one was there to back it up. One had to offer alternatives.
"You are probably struggling this summer with having to deal with the boy and his impact on your family. He lost someone dear to him just recently, and may act out in ways you find inppropriate. I suggest enrolling him in some sort of class in the evenings to reduce his interaction with your husband. Boys of that age often find themselves in conflict with the grown men in their life for no reason at all in many households without your family's past history. This will not improve the situation. Reducing the time when they are both in the same house will be all to the good.
I also suggest making an herbal tea. The one I have in mind is quite harmless, and you will find it pleasant to drink together. Men of your husband's age sometimes find that whiskey affects their health. Having a cup along with him might help him reduce how much alcohol he consumes. If necessary, offer him a glass of whiskey first, and then the tea. You may find that he comes to prefer the tea alone, which will certainly help matters.
I must say how much we all appreciate the efforts you have made with young Mr. Potter to teach him proper discipline. We are endeavoring to do the same at this school. A calmer home atmosphere would be all to the good. I suspect you look forward to this as well. I hope this tea, and reducing the time Mr. Potter is at home the same time as your husband, will help.
I have included the first set of herbs and the recipe. These wholesome ingredients can be found in any Muggle"—he erased that part—"in any normal health store. The tea itself is easy to prepared and tasty with a bit of sugar or honey added.
You will be happy to know that Mr. Potter did better on his tests than expected and will be coming back to Hogwarts in the fall. It's hard to believe that he has only two short years left before he's done and on his own, isn't it?"
He thought Mrs. Dursley would appreciate the reminder that she only had two more summers to deal with the boy. Snape smirked. Best not to mention that Potter would be able to do magic there in Little Whinging after his seventeenth birthday a year and a month or so from now. The family might pamper the boy out of fear, or they might do him in. One could not tell with the Dursleys. And what an interesting surprise awaited them on that happy day!
He scribbled the final paragraph.
"Do realize that we appreciate everything you have gone through. Your position is a difficult one. The herb tea may well ease the situation. If you have any problems with it, please let me know. Feel free to drop a note to the address on the envelope if you have any further questions.
Potions Master, Hogwarts"
He made sure that the letter would be delivered using the Muggle post system, which operated in Hogsmeade out of the left-hand drawer of the village owlery, but somehow managed a London postmark. Snape had gathered more than he wished about the Muggles' obsession with normalcy, or at least the appearance thereof. Given the sort of wandless magic Potter must have gotten up to as a child, not to mention several incidents after that, one certainly couldn't blame them. Snape stifled a smile when he remembered hearing from Dumbledore about the boy's Aunt Marge, never mind the pig's tail.
It seemed odd that Potter was his responsibility now. One would think the Boy-Who-Lived was well guarded enough with the Headmaster, Minerva McGonagall, and half the Order keeping tabs on things. Nobody seemed able to cope, or had lifted a finger as far as he knew till now to help matters any. One could only hope that Moody and the others had investigated the Dursleys, given all the hints he'd dropped at Grimmauld Place that the Boy-Who-Lived did not receive the best of treatment at home.
No, it still didn't make any sense to have this dropped into his lap after so many years of antagonism on both sides. Of course, any time he'd felt protective of the wretched brat, the boy managed to say or do something so like his father Severus felt like strangling him.
Well, he'd done what he could for now. He wrote the rest of the end-of-year letters for his Slytherins, though he saved Draco's for last. With Lucius in Azkaban, he was terribly afraid that the boy would be forced to take the Mark a year early. Narcissa had never taken it, and so far had been adamant in her refusal. That had worked out well, given Fudge's most recent attempt to confiscate the Malfoy estate. Lucius hadn't even come to trial yet, but since when did that bother the Ministry these days?
The Dark Lord had lost several of his strongest followers in the Ministry Raid. Severus knew he would be expected to lead many of his Slytherins to take the Mark like lambs to the slaughter in order to replenish those numbers. He had already told the Headmaster, but all he'd gotten was a gentle command to "do as you think best." No doubt his students had already been written off due to being sorted into the wrong house.
He stood for a moment, then realized he'd done it too fast when a dizzy spell forced him to grab the edge of the desk for balance. He'd been having them more often lately, though he'd increased the frequency of venting spells to the dungeons. Snape sat down once his head cleared. He had no time to indulge such weakness. His whining in the Room of Requirement now seemed foolish. If he were kissed by a Dementor, who would protect his Slytherins? How was he going to keep Draco from being sacrificed, along with many of his classmates?
Severus held his face in his hands a moment. Then he wrote.
"My dear Lady Malfoy", he began. "I hope you are well. Your son Draco performed admirably this last year even when the most recent administration of the school acted in such an unusual matter. He and his friends cooperated with Minister Umbridge and did all that she asked of them. I fear there may be repercussions next year, since she is clearly not coming back."
He wondered what the boy and his friends were planning to do on the train. He hoped it wasn't too foolish, though he had his doubts. Draco tended to make assumptions instead of plans, which might yet prove fatal.
So did the Potter boy, if truth be known. The Ministry Raid proved that, though planning had been scant on either side. That reminded him—Miss Granger should have some follow-up potions to drink over the summer. He'd better start brewing them soon. That insufferable know-it-all should have known better than to risk herself the way she had. A mind like hers came once in a generation, and he could strangle the Boy-Who-Jumped-To-Conclusions with his bare hands for hazarding her life so.
He continued the letter.
"Draco should be prepared to replace his father in certain matters if Lucius is not released soon, even though he is not of age and will not be till a year from now. I do not think he is really ready for this, but circumstances may force my hand. I think it's a pity our current Minister of Magic has forbidden any Malfoy to leave the country till the trials take place (if they ever do). I hope he is not currently motivated by an urge to avenge his father."
Snape knew he had to talk to his godson about the Potter situation. Draco could become jealous if he saw his favorite professor paying too much attention to anyone else. Of course, many of his Slytherin students would write interesting letters home if their Head of House were too easy on any Gryffindor.
Naturally Dumbledore either had no idea or didn't care about his own precarious position, or how helping the Potter boy would affect it. It was up to him, as ever, to manage to save himself. But of course any Gryffindor life was worth more than all the Slytherins put together!
He sighed, and wrote on.
"We shall have to meet this summer to discuss all these matters. I hope you do not believe I am taking advantage of your hospitality by this request. I apologize if I have contributed in any way to the awkwardness of your current situation."
He was certain she knew all about his renewed relationship with Lucius this last year. But if it hadn't been him, it would have been someone else, and Narcissa knew it. Severus concluded with one more paragraph.
"I shall, as always, do my best to look out for your family's interests. You know I will do my best to protect your son no matter what might happen.
If only Lucius had stayed away from that stupid Ministry Raid! The Dark Lord had been an idiot to give two Knuts about that silly Prophecy, let alone obsess for most of a year over. Voldemort could have spent that time to consolidate his position and grow in power. Malfoy was so beloved of the Ministry last spring that he could have gotten a guided tour to the place merely by asking. The only reason he could think of for the raid was to force Death Eaters long away from the leash to prove their loyalty to the Dark Lord.
Severus smirked. He liked to think he'd helped with that by telling Lucius how bothered the Headmaster was about it. It had been hard on Potter to have the Dark Lord use his eyes to see through, but it wasn't as if the Gryffindor had tried very hard to keep Voldemort out, either.
As usual, it was up to him to save everyone's bacon even when they despised him.
He should be used to it by now. He really should. Snape got up and unlocked the cupboard that had the pensieve in it. He may as well look through his own memories and get it over with. If he could show the Headmaster that he really hadn't been that terrible to the boy, perhaps the old man would be satisfied.
As he set the pensieve down on his desk, another owl fluttered in. What on earth do the Weasleys want from me? He read the note.
"Dear Professor Snape," it began in Molly Weasley's handwriting. "As you probably know by now, my son Ronald didn't do so well on his Potions owl." Now that was an understatement. "But I've had a little talk with him, and he's willing to study all summer if you're willing to have him retake the test in the fall. In fact, I plan to make sure he does."
Severus let a crooked smile emerge. He could almost find it in his heart to pity the youngest Weasley boy.
"Are there lessons he can do over the summer? I didn't do so badly in Potions myself when I was a girl, and I'll make sure Ronald works at this. He wants to be in the same classes as his friends, but I told him he would have to earn it.
Snape's first impulse was to toss the note into the fire. He couldn't. Last year, when Black had given him only door-right to 12 Grimmauld Place, and full hospitality to the other members of the Order, Molly Weasley had been the only one to figure it out. She'd even tricked her cousin into handing him the teapot halfway through the year, which meant he didn't have to ask specific permission for a simple cup of tea.
With only door-right to the place, anything he ate or drank there without such permission would curdle in his stomach. There were other strictures which kept him from sleeping or using the Floo without Black's word each and every time, but hearing everyone speculate why he was either rude or too self-righteous to eat there had not been pleasant. But Molly had known and had stopped asking him to stay. Why, she'd even brought him sandwiches made in her own kitchen that he could eat on the doorstep a few times once she'd realized what was going on. There had been nights he would have come close to begging Sirius Black for a crust of bread without that food. She had spared his pride that much, at least.
He carefully folded her letter, then wrote his reply.
"Dear Mrs. Weasley,
I will owl you the standard remedial summer lessons in a couple of days. I have no doubt your son will work hard under your supervision. I will also arrange a new test at the Ministry this fall if he makes adequate progress. Send the sample potions and completed essays back, and I will grade them accordingly. Please let me know if you have any problems. The stricture against underage magic will be suspended for Potions work only for your son.."
As if that meant anything in the Weasley household, or ever had, but he needed to cover his end as well. He sighed. So much for a peaceful summer. He wasn't expecting one anyway.
"I wish the twins had not decided to leave school, though under the circumstances I am not much surprised. Some of what they will miss for their seventh year (Individual Project) may be helpful to their new business. If they feel the need to return, I will raise no objections. I also recommend that they purchase the seventh-year text (Arcanum and Alchemy) for their own use and edification."
He signed the note and sent it off. Putting a book like that in the hands of Fred and George Weasley was like putting Ashwinder eggs in the hands of a first-year, but they would have been using it this fall anyway. Given that neither one had actually severely harmed anyone thus far spoke well for their lab technique and sense of self-preservation.
Thinking of the twins reminded him of someone else who might benefit from summer work. He began another letter.
'Dear Mr. Lovegood,
You may want some explanation of your daughter's somewhat unusual grades this year. Under normal circumstances I would prefer to hold her back and have her repeat the year. However, I believe Miss Lovegood is so distractible from first, natural temperament, and second, because she is bored, rather than neglectful. I also wish she would pay more attention to standard safety measures while brewing.
I would like to propose to the Headmaster and her Head of House that Miss Lovegood skip a year in Potions and begin the sixth-year class in the fall. However, in order to meet my rather stringent requirements, she will need to study for the Potions OWL and pass it at the beginning of this coming school year. I am therefore sending the standard remedial summer Potions lessons for her to work on. Please make sure she is supervised when actual brewing is taking place. It would also be wise to reinforce the wards where she works. I realize you are a busy man, but you have always shown a strong interest in your daughter's studies. If she completes the set properly, she should have little trouble passing. I shall also include a permission slip for Potions work only, and send a copy to the Ministry.'
He signed that as well, and sent it off. It amused Snape to speculate what Mr. Lovegood would have to go through to keep the girl's attention on the task at hand. If nothing else, Miss Granger would be slightly miffed at someone younger working so close to her own level. At best, Miss Lovegood and Miss Granger would combine their distinctly different ways of looking at things and strike mental sparks off each other.
Severus looked at the pensieve. Even writing letters was better than taking a look in there. Perhaps he ought to take the Headmaster's advice and get some sleep first. But that was just an excuse to avoid the past.
Snape slowly opened the ceramic dish and chanted the spell that brought a set of related memories closer to the surface to make them easier to find and examine. The goo changed color slightly, with the threads he needed to see a brighter silver than the rest. His wand pulled out a small rats-nest of memories, and he picked out one at random.
It was the first day Harry Potter was in his classroom. He saw himself make his usual speech to the first years, and then sneering at the new celebrity. But this time he really looked at the boy. Potter didn't snicker the way his father always had, but shrank in his seat instead. He was just another child and didn't understand why he'd been singled out. Potter also showed real bewilderment when asked a perfectly simple question. However, his blankness was reflected in the eyes of the rest of the class, save the bushy-haired girl next to him.
Now I know that he'd never heard of the Wizarding World before getting his owl. Now I know the Dursleys had hidden his textbooks and wand before grudgingly letting him have them back just before going on the train. The other children had been allowed to read all the way through their texts if they had chosen to do so, though rather obviously only one had.
He didn't like seeing that at all. Snape put the memory back and chose another. This one was from just last year. Potter had, at last, decided to pay attention and had made his potion perfectly. One could even read the handwriting on the label. He watched himself deliberately drop it on the floor, watching it shatter, knowing Miss Granger had already cleaned the cauldron.
Severus put that one back as well. The next one showed him throwing a jar in a fit of rage, a rage he knew too well from the other side from a man who had looked a great deal like he did now. He had worn that frightened face once. He had sworn that he would never lose control like that.
He put that memory back and stared down at the other silvery threads. Snape was fairly certain what they would show him. He closed the pensieve and locked it away. Surely some of what he'd done could be excused as part of his cover as a spy. Yet part of him was already preparing the necessary rationale to give the Dark Lord for his upcoming change in attitude towards the boy. A nasty voice whispered to him that Voldemort had been back for only a little more than one year, not five. He could have justified neutrality even then. Snape knew he had not chosen to. He remembered how good it had felt to squash this image of James Potter whenever he had the chance.
Those damned green eyes! Something about them surrounded by a body clearly the fruit of that wretched family stabbed into him like a thorn into soft flesh. I have been weak all these years to let it bother me so. What I thought was strength and determination was only hurt feelings. That's what they saw when the Marauders attacked me. I thought I had grown out of it. He knew he could find plenty of memories to justify what he'd done. But that first day—Harry Potter had known nothing of his parents but the little he'd been told, and most of that inaccurate.
Yes, the boy was a glory-seeking brat with no regard for the rules. But he'd coped with that kind before without savage fury coming to the forefront the way it did with Potter. He had had no excuse last year, after seeing the boy's memories of his life with the Dursleys. Severus moved stiffly, as if he'd aged a hundred years in the last five minutes. At last I am seeing things clearly, he thought. Albus has been right all along. It was his feelings, his weak, stupid feelings that caused all the trouble, and always had. It was time he did something about them. They had given him nothing but pain, and obviously had made him act stupidly for years.
It was getting dark. At this time of year, that meant he'd missed dinner in the Great Hall. That was just as well. He'd likely spew anything up, if he could get it down in the first place. Another case of his feelings getting in the way of what he needed to do. Poppy had told him all last year that he needed to eat and sleep properly to keep up his strength. It had been the way he felt about what he'd done for the Order's sake that made it impossible to keep food down. Only when Molly Weasley had given the warmth of her concern along with her sandwiches had he been able to show any appetite.
It shouldn't matter. The Dark Lord must fall, whatever the cost. His survival was a minor matter in comparison. Besides, he'd seen the look in Moody's eye at 12 Grimmauld Place, the one that told him he and Mad-Eye would have another little chat like so many they'd had in Azkaban. This time there would be no rescue. The old Auror would just wait till Dumbledore was no longer around. Go ahead and wait, Moody. The Dark Lord may decide to kill me first.
Severus didn't know which one would be worse at this point. Tonight, though, there was little he could do about either beckoning future. If I tell anyone, they'll say I'm getting overly morbid again. However, the facts appeared to justify the state this time. He lit his wand to guide him to bed, where he might even sleep.
The Headmaster wasn't surprised to see that the Potions Master had skipped supper, but he was concerned when he discovered the kitchen hadn't received an order for a tray. Perhaps this wasn't really the best night for the dream-sending.
Or perhaps it was the best night of all. When Severus couldn't eat, it was often because he was bothered by something. No doubt the younger wizard had ignored his advice and already looked through some memories. If the effort had confirmed what Snape would like to believe, he would have come up here and stuffed himself.
Albus knew if he waited till tomorrow night, Severus might convince himself that his doubts were only a passing mood. No, the sending should be tonight after all. He hated hurting the man even more than he did already, but the situation between him and Harry could not wait much longer. Too much was at stake, and time was getting short.
Dumbledore told one of the house-elves that he wanted to be alone for the rest of the night, but would want a large breakfast in the morning. Severus, this is for your own good. If you can't learn in any other way, you will in this one.
Snape sat up to read. He was surprised to find himself nodding over the book. He hadn't expected to sleep much tonight, so lay down with a mild sense of relief. He was tired of forcing his body to rest with potions, and found the possibility of natural slumber a welcome respite.
At first his mind was mercifully blank. It didn't last. He found himself trapped in a small, dark space, almost like a cupboard. He couldn't get out. The door was locked on the outside, and he couldn't find his wand. He had to be quiet. If they heard him, he'd be in bigger trouble than he was. He shook with terror at everything--the closed-in room, the darkness, and the tickly feel of insects, probably spiders, walking across his skin.
Severus breathed deeply till he calmed down. He still couldn't see anything, though he'd given it enough time for his eyes to adjust. Wait! A glimmer of light trickled into the place from a crack in the bottom of the door. He closed his eyes and counted to sixty. After that, he could make out vague shadowy outlines inside this place, the way he had when he used to hide in the cubbyhole in his attic room in Knockturn Alley.
That didn't help much when he heard two people shouting outside the door. He made himself as small as possible against the wall away from the entrance. Maybe they would forget him for a little while. The bare mattress smelled rank, as did the pillow, but there wasn't anything he could do about it.
Something thumped against the door. He wept with fear. Mother would start screaming soon, and he would be stuck in here, unable to help her. Then he realized he needed the loo. What was he going to do? He knew he would be punished if he made a mess, though a stale odor in one corner of the cramped space told him that he'd done it before. "Please," he called out weakly. "Please let me use the bathroom."
The voices stopped. Heavy steps came towards his hiding place. It opened briefly, and he blinked at the dazzling light. A man's hand thrust in a pot. "Use that, you little bugger. It's more than you deserve."
Severus realized, seeing his hand in the light as he reached for the pot, that he was smaller than he remembered. He had a boy's body, too, as he desperately contorted himself so he could use the pot while not daring to spill a drop. Everything seemed blurry, too, as if he needed to rub his eyes after the light had bothered them, but nothing he did made anything past a short distance come clear.
The scene changed. He ran in a Muggle playground, wearing clothes much too big for him. The shirt had holes that let in the breeze. Severus was used to that. Hand-me-downs were cheaper where he'd grown up, and Mother often too ill for even basic mending spells. A fat boy, accompanied by two others, were heading his way. He kept running, but it was no use. They caught him. The two other boys held him while the fat one slugged him for merely existing. I don't understand, he thought. James was never fat, and the two others aren't Black or Pettigrew.
The scene changed again. He was in the Potions Classroom, only as a student again, next to other children he barely knew, while a tall, dark man cut him into pieces with words like knives.
Snape finally understood whose nightmares he was trapped in. Why am I in Potter's life? I knew he wasn't spoiled at home last spring when I saw his memories. Why do I need this lesson again?
But it didn't stop with this realization. Again and again the Potions Master tormented him, even though his friends tried to help. At least you have friends, Snape thought morosely, though he knew no one would hear him.
Then he heard other thoughts. Why does he hate me so much? I've never done anything to him. They say he hated my father, but why? Everyone says Dad and Mum were the greatest people in the world. They say my dad saved his life, even! It's not fair! Every time Draco and his friends do something to me, he acts like it was nothing, or it was my fault. Why?
I could ask the same questions of the Headmaster myself, boy, Severus snarled, though he knew he was only talking to himself.
And then he saw the scene in office again, with the jar of cockroaches flying, breaking and scattering the bugs all over…
Snape finally awoke, gasping for breath. All this time…all this time he'd been the thing that he had sworn never to be.
He had become his father.
It must stop now. For a moment he sat up and held the dagger that he kept in a box beside the bed. But that solution was too easy. He didn't deserve it. He had a duty to the Order. He put the blade back with shaking hands.
He'd done his best last year to control himself around the boy. Even with Calming potions the Occlumency lessons had been hellish, especially when Potter had gone into the Pensieve. No doubt the boy had had a good laugh with Moony and Padfoot over that!
Yet even with most of the bad memories locked away, he had still let the boy's green-eyed gaze stir up anger.
Why? Snape got up from the edge of the bed and opened a box with so many wards on it Merlin himself might have trouble finding it, let alone lift the lid. He had no privacy in this school, and never had, thanks to Dumbledore's loving concern. A year or so ago, it had been even worse while "Moody" was teaching. Of course his suspicions had been dismissed back then. Why should anyone listen to him?
A few pictures lay inside, so tattered with handling that the images were blurry and hardly moved.
As soon as he saw her, he finally understood. Lily. With Lucius gone from school and married, he'd let himself dream of someone who didn't demand as much for love as Malfoy did. Oh, he'd paid for his temporary infidelity later on, but it hadn't mattered so much then. He had looked at the Gryffindor girl entirely without hope. Hope always hurt too much, because it was always disappointed. Better to do without it.
Once or twice he'd been able to pretend to himself that she didn't hate him. He'd apologized for that horrible remark he'd made, and she had appeared to accept it. But she'd married James Potter instead. She couldn't have known that he was only more careful when he and his friends tormented me. I still can't believe she would have loved him if she had known how cruel he still was, only not in public any more. Admittedly, being safe in a crowd gave him some respite. He'd tried to let her know the truth, only to have her reject it as the whining of a jealous boy. That was when he'd given up trying to tell anyone the truth at all. By that time he had worn the Mark, and knew that would condemn him to anyone outside the same group.
He ripped his last picture of her in half. He was a fool to believe in anything or anybody. Yes. That was it. Seeing her eyes in Harry Potter's face was the key. That explained why it hurt to look at the boy even when he'd thought he'd disciplined the past. He simply hadn't been thorough. He must rip Lily from his soul as well.
It wasn't going to be enough just to put her in the pensieve. He'd tried to do that with his memories of the Marauders, but that hadn't worked either. He remembered a Muggle saying. If thine eye offend thee, pluck it out.
Snape knew he needed isolation to do memory work this extensive. He must do it inside Hogwarts' wards, or he'd leave himself too vulnerable to the Dark Lord. The Headmaster would also be curious, and meddle, probably just at the wrong moment.
He must arrange some time alone here. Till then, he needed to put on a show of complying with Dumbledore's wishes. The old wizard tended to come down and interrupt things if he didn't see members of his staff at dinner for over a day or so.
However, the Headmaster might be persuaded to take a vacation. A word to Madam Pomfrey about how tired the older man looked would probably get her to lean on Dumbledore to leave for a couple of weeks. The others wouldn't bother him if he let them know ahead of time that he would be busy. After all, they had lives of their own.
For now he'd follow a simple routine to lull the Headmaster's vigilance. He'd eat in the Great Hall each day, usually at noon, spend an hour outside getting fresh air and sunshine, and otherwise appear calm. Once Dumbledore had left, he would find the necessary isolation and proceed with this corrective surgery. It was obvious he was far too weak to manage his memories and his emotions the way they were presently. It was time to do something about them.
Author's note: Thanks, reviewers!